I'm happy to report that I have a small victory today! My short story, "Pain Meds" made it passed Round 1 of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. I was in Heat 21. My assignment--Genre: Romance / Subject: A Test of Physical Strength / Character: Nurse. I was one of 5 winners of a pool of 32 writers. And I'm now one of 125 writers moving on from a starting pool of 800.
We had 8 days to write a 2,500 word short story. Round 2 is in 2 days, again with a mystery assignment, but with fewer days and fewer words to express it in.
Special thanks to my mali/sister/friend/nurse (Alison Rae Taimanglo Cuasay) for inspiring the events in my story.
Here it is!
Pain Meds BY Tanya C. Taimanglo
Nurse Norma’s usual workday would test her strength in more ways than one. By meeting patient Jonah--a man struggling to recover, Norma is taught that power and beauty really come from within.
I’ve always believed that I didn’t have much luck with men because my name was Norma. There was nothing exotic about my name and that transferred into every little morsel of my bland life.
I splash cold water on my face before looking at my reflection. The harsh bathroom lights are the same ones used all over this come to die hospital. I chose this job because it was the only place that would take me and the thirteen other new graduates. And now, the stress of the last three months on probation has pretty much sealed the deal with all men. I wouldn’t even give myself a second glance. My hands are manly, cracked from overwashing, the lines around my eyes belong to my mother, not me. My pale skin looks disgusting against my flat chestnut hair. I’m in dire need of some lady maintenance, but the only life I have outside of this hospital is sleep, eating fast food on my way home to sleep or boring dinners with my mother—where I’m dreaming of sleep. I feel haggard all the time. I inhale the rest of my candy bar and wash it down with cold, bitter coffee. A knock on the locker room door startles me and I check my face for evidence of my breakfast.
“Norma Rae, the briefing is starting.” Head Nurse Elly’s voice grates on my nerves like nails on a blackboard.
“Please, just call me Norma.” I show my evil supervisor my name tag.
“Okay, Nurse Norma.” She mocks me. I stare down at this squat of a woman, her muddy brown eyes challenge me. I hate her, but I don’t want to go to jail for any of the things me and the other newbies talk about doing to her. I whip my hair into a sloppy ponytail and join the group. Wound care is not my cup of tea, but it’s my next training and I have no choice.
“Today, you will be observing a patient. He was hit by a car and has suffered massive internal damage. That has all been treated, and he is in wound care to deal with his skin, or lack there of.”
Everyone turns to me. My hands are over my mouth, again. “Sorry!” I’m too damn emotional for this job, I think. I must have gasped as usual upon hearing the patient’s story. I’m not sure how I’ll make it through today.
Elly continues. “The patient is twenty seven and is on several pain and anti-infection meds. You will need to observe the rotation procedures so you can get that down pat. We are also grafting skin from his legs to cover the area around his back that has been exposed due to the trauma.”
“You better stop that,” Nurse Caleb whispers to me.
“What?” I say out of the corner of my mouth, but of course Elly sees me.
Caleb, the one friend I can lean on, writes a note on his clipboard. You are whimpering like a fool again. Stop!
God, what was wrong with me. The patient and I are the same age. I wonder about the life he’s going to have after this tragedy. I tear up. I look at Caleb who shares my tallness and nudge him playfully. His wedding ring glints in the light and I come to my senses. He’s off limits, Norma.
“You two!” Elly is out for blood again. “Caleb and Norma Rae!” Now I know she’s saying my full name to spite me. “Front and center.”
Caleb and I stalk forward like we’re in the military and report to our leader. We stand in front of her totally blocking her out from the rest of our group. “Yes, Nurse Elly?”
Her crooked smile makes my stomach churn and I see Caleb roll his eyes. “You two will be my hands on today.”
“Yes, ma’am.” We both say. Hands on means we’ll be hanging back later than everyone else doing her paperwork.
“I can’t deal with this!” A stunning brunette pushes past our group and bolts out of the room. I immediately look at the doctor who is patting our patient’s hand. The patient, young and robust, stares out the window. Elly holds our group back until the doctor says it’s fine. Once he gestures, we move forward. He whispers something to Elly and they review charts. I keep my eyes from moving to the patient’s pelvic area, thinking I may see something macabre like a magic trick gone horribly wrong. Let’s saw the man in half!
His bronze skin is taut, a swirl of black art peeks from under his gown sleeve. He’s built like a rugby player. I hope that his ability to walk has not been affected. I watch a tear drop from his eyes. I look at the others in my group and they are either looking at their clipboards or Elly.
I step forward. “Hello. Are you okay?”
“I would like more pain meds, please.” His deep voice strikes me in the chest. He doesn’t look at me and I crave to see his face. My eyes travel the length of the bed and I see his feet are there, his strong legs, the sheet over his mid section is propped up by something. God, I even check if he has a wedding band. None. I’m quite sure the lovely woman who left is his lover. Or, was his lover.
“Excuse me, Nurse Norma Rae. What are doing?” Elly charges forward.
“Sorry,” I avoid her and look at the doctor. “He looked like he needed something.” And none of you were paying attention, I want to add.
This time I’m granted a good look at the patient’s face. I am struck by its beauty. He looks up at me with his green eyes, the mess of black hair is begging for me to touch it, but I grip his bed rail instead.
“Hello.” He half smiles, tears still in his eyes.
“Good morning.” I smile.
“Thank you, Nurse Norma Rae,” the doctor steps forward. “Our patient, Jonah Clare has been through a lot of trauma. He’s been with us for two weeks. He’s a very brave man. So, we’re doing our best to get him back into his usual life.”
I hear Jonah scoff and he faces the window again. I make my way back to my group. The doctor continues to tell us every gritty detail of his accident. I feel for Jonah knowing that someone tried to kill him. For defending a woman being harassed at a gas station, Jonah was pinned by a car against the building. I look at the doctor, disgusted. He has no clue he is making Jonah uncomfortable.
“He’s lost the functionality of his penis as well.” I bit my lips, but a small wave of emotion travels through our group and I am glad it isn’t just weakling me being jolted by Jonah’s condition. “He may very well need catheterization for the rest of his life, but as he heals, that will be determined.”
I look past the doctor and Jonah has his large arm over his face. He is sobbing visibly, but doesn’t make a sound. Caleb catches that too and looks at me. The group leaves with the doctor. Caleb and I are left with Elly to treat Jonah. I brace myself for the worse.
Elly removes his sheet, the gauze is wet and pink and covers his entire waist and hips. Caleb, known for his iron stomach, cringes. We all glove up. Elly explains the dressing process and shows the areas of Jonah’s body where grafting is successful. Elly moves in a clinical way, void of considering Jonah’s feelings or pain until he winces or yelps. I want to hold his hand so badly to get him through this.
Caleb preps fresh dressings and I find myself looking at Jonah. He is focused on me. He blushes when our eyes meet, but I don’t want him to feel ashamed. He protected a girl for Christ’s sake. I look at his lovely face again and wonder to myself if he was mine if I might leave him too.
The crackle of the loud speaker startles me, and Jonah’s grip on my hand increases. Elly watches our hands, but turns her attention to the voice, “Code 3 on the third floor.” Our floor.
Elly springs into action. She barks orders, “Reapply the dressing!” I look at his open flesh and the fresh scars of the skin grafts. I blink away tears. Elly is in the hall and speaks with a passing nurse. She grips her stethoscope and looks at Jonah.
“Caleb! Follow me. Norma continue and keep this door locked.”
A wave of fear courses through me. What the hell is a Code 3? Caleb nods at me and follows Elly, leaving me alone with Jonah.
“What’s a Code 3?” He asks, eyes wide.
“I don’t recall, but don’t worry. Let me take care of getting you redressed.” I check his fluids and see that his pain medication won’t be replenished for an hour.
Thundering footsteps outside the door pull my attention as I’m applying the bandages. Jonah is rather talkative and explains the story of his injury.
“Just relax, Mr. Clare.”
“Call me Jonah, please.” He smiles, but it doesn’t fill his face, his eyes stressed. “I’m trying to, that’s why I’m yakking away. If I don’t talk, I might scream. I hope I’m doing okay. I’m trying my best to bear down.”
“Okay, then Jonah. Talk away.” I say gently. He tells me that he might have to testify from the hospital. He tells me he’s scared. He tells me the woman he saved was the ex-wife of the suspect. He tells me that man is still on the loose. There is more running and I see a security guard on his radio but I can’t make out what the emergency is.
“You are very brave, Jonah.”
“I’m not. I’m stupid. I should have minded my business.”
“You did the right thing.”
“But,” He pauses and watches my face. “I lost everything.”
I don’t know what to say to this. He hasn’t really lost everything. We are not supposed to express our opinions as nurses, but I see this broken man and I want to fix him more than just physically. I want to repair his broken spirit, but I’m not supposed to.
Before I can swallow my comments they are coming out of my mouth. “You haven’t lost everything, Jonah. You will find someone new.”
“Oh, that girl that left? We were through before all this happened. Losing this,” he gestures to his midsection, “was just the perfect excuse for her to dump me.” He smiles despite this harsh reality.
I finish the dressing as best as I remembered it coming off. The only dressings I’ve had practice with were for arms or legs, not torsos.
I check his urine bag and wonder if I’m suppose to mark his charts. I wait instead. I cover Jonah with the sheet and wash up. I have a view of the hallway. It’s empty and quiet and I don’t like it. I peer out the narrow rectangular viewing glass. I think I see Caleb across the hall, but his scrubs are baggier for some reason, then I see a face. One I don’t recognize. He sees me and sneers.
This man is not wearing a tag, but he’s carrying an access key. He stalks to our door. I race to Jonah and pull the privacy curtain to shield him.
“Is everything okay, Norma?” The sound of my name affects me in all the wrong ways and I turn to him.
“It will be.” I say confidently.
The click of the lock echoes in my head. I stand my ground. The definition of Code 3 floods my memory. Security Breach, hostile person on the floor.
The man’s face turns to stone and he looks beyond me. “May I help you Nurse?”
“Doing a check on the room. For supplies.” He says.
Nice try, I think. “She is doing fine. We just restocked.”
“She?” He furrows his brows. “Mind if I just take a look.”
I look to the hall, where is everyone? “No. She is fine, like I said. Did Nurse Elly send you?” I lie.
“Yes. He did.” He? I look at the faux nurse’s shoes. Black boots. Not standard, but somehow I knew this way before he walked in.
I walk to a supply cart, thankful Jonah is quiet. I pull a tray and scan for anything I can use to defend myself and Jonah. “I have the latest supply chart here.” I grab a handful of tongue depressors and hide them behind a clipboard. Maybe I can give him splinters, stupid me musing because I’m scared. He’s behind me, too close as I rise.
“Who are you?” I growl.
“Just some unfinished business.” He whispers and begins to reach for the curtain. I grab his arm and he pushes me to the wall. I think of Jonah as this man’s large forearm presses on my chest. He’s angling for my neck and I squeeze my chin to my chest. I am on my tiptoes and suddenly jab the depressors into his eye. He drops me and I yell for help, but my voice betrays me, too weak it comes out as a whisper.
Faux nurse’s yell fills the room. I’m on the floor and he makes a swift kick to my gut as I try to scurry to the door. My vision blackens as this pain I’ve never felt before crushes me. When I open my eyes he is on the other side of Jonah’s bed. I hear gurgling and cursing. I rise. The shimmer of a stack of bed pans grabs my attention. I grab one and tiptoe behind the faux nurse. Jonah’s eyes are pleading to me and I swing as hard as my body will allow. The metal crunches on the top of his head. He’s face down and I straddle him, holding the bed pan over me in case he tries to move again.
Jonah coughs, “I’m sorry. I can’t reach the help button.” So, he yells. I join in.
Two security guards are at my side. I’m so ready to spring again it takes Caleb to pull me off the man. He grabs a chair and seats me next to Jonah. Elly checks Jonah’s neck, pink hand marks make me sob. I pull up my scrubs and there’s a scarlet bruise near my ribs. I feel around it, tender but not broken. Jonah is watching me. He mouths, “I’m sorry.”
I touch his shoulder. I don’t care that Elly glares at me.
“It’s not your fault.” I smile. “I’m glad I was here. So, do you still want those pain meds?”
He touches my hand. “I’m fine now.”